Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Tribulator Knocks Off Work or I Want To Marry Illustrator's Live Trace Function

Here's the initial composition, constructed from scans in Photoshop. The background is too dark and intrusive, and the whole thing has a muddy, unclear quality to it. But that's fine -- this is just a preparatory stage.

So it's been a good day. Got another chapter of the novel out to the Homework Club, and I finished a new illustration for the magazine. It's based on one that was originally intended to be a centerfold -- here it is, if you're interested.

While I was working on the first version of this I got a sense of deja vu. I thought the composition looked familiar. Well, I figured it out. It was from the Lord of the Rings movie, the scene where a moth flutters by Gandalf when he's imprisoned on top of Saruman's tower.

It would have worked as a centerfold, but it turns out that the image needs to be split into two panels. That weakened the image too much -- oh, well. I was still able to salvage the subject matter and use the scans.

Anyway, I've made some interesting discoveries in using Photoshop and Illustrator in conjunction with one another in order to produce line art -- art that is pure black and white, which is easy to reproduce clearly. I thought I'd show off a bit of the process.

There are five elements on seperate layers in the initial Photoshop file. This is the background, scanned from the flank of a lubber grasshopper.

The Tribulator is a scanned damaged butterfly, chosen for the ragged edges of its wings. The spire is the knee joint from the leg of the lubber grasshopper mentioned above. I used a lot of distortion tricks in Photoshop to give the shapes a sense of perspective and depth.

I also use two or three adjustment layers on each of these elements -- Levels, Brightness and Contrast, and in the case of the background, Invert. I try and get the images as close to pure black and white as I can this way.

Again, these are two seperate layers. I duplicated the Tribulator and Spire layers, used Levels adjustment layers to render them in pure white, and added an Outer Glow from the FX menu on the layers panel, then positioned them under their corresponding elements. This gives the Tribulator and Spire a white outline to separate them from each other and the background. I'm big on clarity.

Now I can get ready to start working in Illustrator. First I want to get the background in place -- I was taught to work from far to near when making this kind of image -- to get the most distant elements in a composition rendered before going on to the elements 'closer' to the viewer. So here's the background with the white cut-outs, ready to be traced.

And here's the initial tracing. I went to Illustrator, created a document the same size as my Photoshop document, and then placed the Photoshop file in the Illustrator document and hit the Live Trace button in the control panel. Then I went to Object-Live Trace -- Options and began fiddling around until I got what I liked. This was done all in Lines, no Fill, lightest weight of line.

Since the first background was a bit weak, I turned on the Inverse adjustment layer, saved, and did it again.

Here's what I got. A nice outline of the Tribulator and his Spire.

I put each of these onto its own layer in Illustrator. Here's how those two look together. I thought this was thin, so I did one more layer after adjusting the grays in the Photoshop image -- you'll see how that fit in when you get to the finished version.

And now for the Spire...

For the Spire's Live Trace, I used all Fill and no Line.

The Tribulator was close to black and white in Photoshop --

-- so the Illustrator version looks quite similar. Now it's time to put everything together...

"The Tribulator had cultivated a spire at the center of his territory. Its spiral buttresses and knotted shaft were made of the same subtle matter as he was, and he kept his nest at its apex. When he reached home the Tribulatrix was waiting for him. After being in proximity to the sick human the sight of her was like a flight through spring rain..."

-- from Hate Her, Hate Her, Tribulator! You'll find the rest of the story in the next issue of Swill.


Glendon Mellow said...

Wow. That's like so out there. Great making of post, Sean, that really blows me away. A very distinct look too. I love the ferociously large grasshopper leg.

Sean Craven said...

Thanks, man!

I'm pretty pleased with myself for having figured this out, I gotta admit. Right now part of me is thinking that I'll never use ink again, but I've heard similar nonsense from that part of me and it's always proved wrong in the long run.

It's funny -- the most important influence on my art at this stage is the need to be able to produce rapidly. It's actually been really, really good for the quality of my work. Go figure.

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